‘Garagistes’ vintners make the grade

Rod and Leslie Balsley at William Church Winery. Leslie grew up on Mercer Island. - Contributed Photo
Rod and Leslie Balsley at William Church Winery. Leslie grew up on Mercer Island.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

Continuing with my series on six former Mercer Islanders who are now winemaker/winery owners, I introduce Leslie Balsley. She moved onto the Island in sixth grade and attended Mercer View Elementary and North Mercer Junior High, and graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1976. Dr. John C. Lind, Leslie’s dad, is a retired Island dentist who still lives on Island.

The other five former Islanders are Anna Schafer of aMaurice, Chris Howell of Cain, Craig Leuthold of Maryhill, Nina Buty Foster of Buty, and Andrew Lodmell of Lodmell.

“Rod, my husband, and I started our interest in wine on our honeymoon, where we were struck by how much wine is a part of the fabric of everyday life. In a lucky coincidence, we moved next door to someone who had been making wine for years as a hobby in their garage, which got us started making wine.”

Rod and Leslie became “garagistes.” The French term “garagiste” (garage) refers to a group of innovative French winemakers in Bordeaux who began making more approachable, drink-now wines back in the mid-1900s. Loosely translated now, the term refers to garage wine!

After a few years, they hired Matthew Loso of Matthew Cellars to be their consulting winemaker to see if they could “make the grade” as a commercial winery.

“And we were off and running on our new adventure,” said Leslie. “Our first vintage in 2005, we made 300 cases, which seemed like an enormous amount at the time. After six years, our production is approximately 2,000 cases. As a family-owned boutique winery, our goal is to stay small so we can be close to our customers and keep the artisan quality in our wines.”

“The name ‘William Church’ came from both our fathers,” said Leslie.  “William is Rod’s father’s first name, and Church is my dad’s middle name.” They chose the rose window design on their wine label because the rose is the symbol of completeness and balance in gothic church architecture.  “Balance is our goal in our wines,” said Leslie.

William Church currently has seven wines available:

• 2009 Bad Habit, which is a red blend/90 cases made: $17

• 2009 A Little White Lie, which is a pinot gris/112 cases made: $14

• 2008 Sur La Mer, which is a red Bordeaux style blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot/250 cases made: $32

• 2009 Malbec/180 cases: $30

• 2008 Two Spires, which is a blend of syrah and cabernet sauvignon that received 90 points in the Seattle Metropolitan Magazine and a Gold medal at the Seattle Wine Awards/250 cases made: $29

• 2008 Syrah: 90 points Wine Enthusiast and Gold Medal at the Washington Wine Summit/196 cases made: $26

• 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, 90 points Wine Enthusiast/ 250 cases made: $29

They are currently sold out of their Bishop’s Blend and their viognier. They consider their viognier as their flagship wine. No wonder it is sold out. The 2010 viognier got 90 points in the Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, 91 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, a Double Gold in the Seattle Wine Awards and was a Platinum Award Winner from Wine Press Northwest. I am eagerly awaiting the 2011 vintage.

William Church has two tasting rooms in Woodinville. One is in the Hollywood Schoolhouse District, next to the Purple Café, at 14455 Woodinville-Redmond Road, open Sunday, Monday and Thursday, 12-6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 12-8 p.m. The second location is in the warehouse district, Saturdays, 12-4 p.m. Call (425) 482-2510 or visit

Taste Washington

Mark your calendars for Taste Washington: March 31 and April 1. Seminars and tastings will happen both days. Visit or call (206) 326-5764 to learn more.


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